University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Anytime News Article

 
CUT FLOWER CARE
 
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
 
 
Whether you give and receive cut flowers for Valentine’s Day, on special occasions, or just to brighten up someone’s day, there are some tips you should follow to ensure the longest life in the vase (often called “vase life”).

When buying flowers, check the water they are in.  It should smell fresh and clean.  Otherwise there may be bacteria growing in it that will clog the flower stems.  Another indication is clean flower stems that are not slimy.

Check flower stems to make sure they are not scarred from rough handling, or broken.  Flowers should look fresh without signs of a fuzzy growth called gray mold or “botrytis.”  Flowers should have upright, not drooping or damaged petals.  Leaves on flower stems should not be yellow, spotted, or drooping-- all signs of old age.

Choose the opening stage of flowers depending on your use for them.  If they are to be enjoyed immediately, with vase life not as important, pick ones fairly open.  If flowers are to be enjoyed over the longest time possible, choose ones just beginning to open.  For single blooms such as roses and carnations, for instance, flower buds should only have one petal unfurled.  For spike flowers such as gladiolus, buy with only the first two or three flowers open.

For daisy-type flowers, such as many chrysanthemums, make sure the centers are almost green for longest life.  The centers are actually many individual “disc” flowers, which when fully open turn yellow, and when gone past turn brown. 

Although cut flowers last best in the cool, avoid exposing them to severe cold on the way home, or leaving for a long time in freezing temperatures.  Ideal temperatures to transport and store are between 40 and 50 degrees (F). 

Make sure vases and clippers, or knives, are clean.  This means washing them well in detergent or an antibacterial cleaning product. 

Knives or clippers used to cut stems should be sharp, to make a clean cut.  Otherwise, vessels in flower stems can get damaged and not be able to take up water as well.  Remove any leaves that will be below the water level so they don’t rot, spoiling the water.  Cut about one to two inches off the stems and place immediately into the vase.

Vases should contain a commercial flower food.  A small packet usually comes with bouquets you buy, or you can buy such packets at a floral shop.  If you buy many cut flowers, you might buy a small container of such food.  This “food” contains sugars the flower needs, plus a weak acidic material to prevent bacteria from growing and clogging stems. 

If you don’t have, or can’t get, such floral food there are many home remedies that are often less effective.  Often used, though, is a lemon lime soda diluted by half with water.  Or you could just use clean water with a couple drops of bleach.

You should top up the vase with fresh solution as the level recedes.  After six days replace the solution in a clean vase, recutting stems once again.  When making the solution for a vase, use lukewarm water as it is absorbed faster than cold water. Keeping flowers out of direct sunlight, and away from drafts (near doors, windows, heat vents), will help prolong their life.

If your flowers wilt, try recutting and replacing with fresh solution.  If this doesn’t work, it may not be your fault, but rather with the handling prior to your purchase.  It helps to buy from a floral shop that has trained personnel, or one that has a quick turnover of flowers (meaning that they are usually fresh).  Buy good flowers, and treat them well, and they should look good for at least a week or two. Then when they are nearing the end of their life in a vase, cut the stems to within a half-inch of the flower, and float them in a bowl of water.               

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